No. 18 Connecticut looks loaded heading into opener
After a pair of exhibition victories, Connecticut is set to open the season.
“Heck, yeah, we definitely feel ready,” Rodney Purvis told the Hartford Courant after the No. 18 Huskies defeated Southern Connecticut State in the second preseason game. “I feel real confident with this group. We've just got to be more consistent with our effort.”
Kevin Ollie's Huskies, who open the season with a home game against Wagner on Friday night, advanced to the second round of last season's NCAA Tournament, and appear loaded, with veterans returning and Alterique Gilbert the program's third straight preseason AAC rookie of the year.
“Coach always says we're not one of those teams with five or six McDonald's All-Americans,” Purvis said. “So we have to work extra hard for everything we get. Our energy and our effort can cover up for not having all those All-Americans, so we just have to bring it every night on the floor with our defensive intensity.”
The Huskies (25-11, 11-7 in conference last season) come in eight spots higher than Cincinnati (one spot out of the Top 25) in the preseason rankings, but they were tabbed just behind the Bearcats in the preseason conference poll.
Ollie, who led the Huskies to their fourth NCAA title in 2014, was mentioned as a possible candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers' job that went to Luke Walton. But Ollie remains in Storrs. And his team is loaded.
Added to the UConn mix is 6-foot-7 Mike Larrier, who out last year after transferring from Virginia Commonwealth.
“We have a lot of great guards and they did a great job of finding us and sharing the ball,” said Amida Brimah, the 2014-15 AAC defensive player of the year who battled injury last season. “They're very athletic, and any time they get the ball they're ready to just push the ball.”
Former Husky Scott Burrell, whose Southern Connecticut team lost an exhibition game to UConn, was impressed.
“Their length is like an NBA team,” he said, “like when the Lakers had (Pau) Gasol, (Lamar) Odom and (Andrew) Bynum. Every pass is hard. They play hard, they cut hard; their guards are strong.
“They're tough. They have a lot of talent, a lot of weapons. And some of those young guards aren't in a rhythm yet. When those guys get better and more comfortable, with those big wings they are going to be tough. Kevin did a great job recruiting.”
Wagner, the Northeast Conference's regular-season champ and tournament runner-up in a 25-win season in 2015-16, was picked to finish second in the Northeast Conference. Two Seahawks, Michael Carey and Corey Henson, were tabbed first team All-NEC preseason.
The Seahawks defeated St. Bonaventure in the NIT last year — the first postseason victory in the history of the program.
Henson led the conference by hitting 40.2 percent of his 3-pointers — nailing 74 long-range shots.
“Last year's success could be a little bit of a double-edged sword,” coach Bashir Mason said. “Obviously, it felt good to bounce back from a 10-win season with the same guys pretty much, and the guys are excited about that. But on the other end of it is the satisfaction part. So, we have to fight complacency. Just work every day to try to put ourselves back in the same exact position.”